Archie & Sophie Lent 2021: Day 1

A bit of an early start today as I wanted to make it to Asda and back before breakfast so I could have a cuppa before I started working! Luckily they did have stock of Smart Price teabags – phew! 

Today was quite a busy day for us both – with Archie busy with uni all day and Sophie having a combination of online lectures and a Foodbank shift. We started off the day with cornflakes, sugar, some watered down milk and a cup of tea. Not the most nutritious breakfast but tricky to see how you could make it any better without spending more! It did fill us up for the morning though. Normally we’d have either cereal with fruit on it, or toast – but for the sake of variety we tried to limit our intake of bread to lunchtimes only.

I did feel a bit peckish during the morning and definitely in the late afternoon (especially as last week’s birthday cake was looking at me and calling my name!). We bought a pack of biscuits for these occasions, so luckily we had something to snack on in the morning, and (thanks to a bread miscalculation earlier today!) had an extra slice of toast in the afternoon too. Sophie thinks her foodbank shift felt much harder today than it normally does, and I have to admit I found my concentration going and even drifted off to sleep at one point when I was meant to be working despite having a good night’s sleep before! 

Menu today:

Breakfast: Cornflakes with Sugar & Milk, Tea/Water 

Lunch: Tinned Spaghetti on 2 small bits of toast, half an apple, water

Dinner: Sardiney-carrotey-tomatoey pasta (see recipe below), water, buiscones (see recipe below; it made 4 generous portions)

Ingredients: 2 x tins tomatoes, 1 x ‘value’ tin of sardines in tomato sauce, 300g bag of reduced, out of date chopped carrots, 3 stalks of thyme (from a community garden in a nearby park), ⅓ onion, 2 tsp mixed herbs, salt and pepper, small bit of margarine to fry, Strong mug of black tea

Method: Fry onion in margarine for a few minutes. Then add carrot and fry for a few more minutes. After that, add the herbs and some salt and pepper. Chop the sardines with a sharp knife, and add them along with the tomatoes and tea. 

This was really quite nice actually! The sardines and black tea (a tip from Jack Monroe) added a lot of flavour. It would have been nice with some cheese in it or on top but that was a luxury which didn’t fit into the budget. We allowed ourselves a bit of extra pasta above the recommended portion, on account of the fact we have twice as much rice as pasta to use up. We definitely needed it by 7:30! 

Biscuones (made 5):

Ingredients: 50g margarine, 50g sugar, 100g self raising flour, about 2tbsp of milk/water mix

Method: Cream margarine and sugar, add in half the flour, then the milk, then the rest of the flour. Spoon onto tray, bake at 180 for about 15 minutes (check after 10). 

These were… pretty odd but ok! The main thing we struggled with today was that we were still pretty hungry after we ate lunch, so have saved a few of these for tomorrow. The consistency is weird – crispy on the outside like a biscuit, but inside like a cross between a scone and a cake. Eggs didn’t fit into the budget, and we got self-raising flour because we thought it would be more versatile than plain flour, so this was the best we could come up with – but it contained carbs and sugar so it ticks all the boxes! 

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Pre-covid, Norwich foodbank put together recipe kit bags of ingredents, containing all the items needed and a simple to folow recipe. Several of these were taken (with permisison) from Jack Monroe’s various cookbooks and the author donated several copies which were given out to interested clients. The recipe bags proved popular as it gave people an extra meal or treat alongside the food parcel, there was no worry about ‘I don’t have this item’ because everything was included and there was an element of choice because we had several kits available so people could have the one they fancied. The charity provided kits for corned beef hash, spaghetti bolognaise, fishcakes, soups and cakes and received positive feedback. Pancake kits were given out on Shrove Tuesday this year and the general concept will definitely be repeated!

Hannah Lent 2021 – Day 5

I felt more than a little relief this morning that today was the last day of this ‘challenge’ for me, that tomorrow I could eat what I wanted and that I had more bread that I expected left, plus a double portion of pasta as I wouldn’t need it for lunch so could have a bigger tea. I know I didn’t have to use it all up, but it’s a little about food waste as well as budgeting so I was pleased to not have much left, especially compared to 2019, but I know that was only a small part. At the end of the 5 days, I had a few fruit teabags left.

Eggy bread, fruit tea and lemonade followed by quite a lot of cleaning up from yesterday and a trip out – to Homebase – and another fruit tea and lemonade preceded a lunch of baked beans and hotdogs on toast. Very nice and quite ‘normal’ for me which was even nicer.

A fairly relaxed afternoon, but I have to admit to already planning my lunches and a couple of dinners for the coming week. As I mentioned in the 2019 blog, I am very big on meal planning both for structure and being organised in this aspect of life at least, but also this helps with budgeting and a really meaningful shopping list so I did spend a bit of time going through the cupboards and freezer, working out what I had, what I would be cooking / eating and therefore what I needed to buy.

I prepared my lunches for Monday and Tuesday and, as usual, flung a few handfuls of pasta into the saucepan but weighed it out of interest after I had put in what I considered ‘enough’. It was almost 300g and this was to do 2-3 lunches. Again I questioned am I overeating or was the 85g portions of the past week significantly less than a ‘standard’ portion? I must google that… I did, 180g is considered a ‘standard portion’ so I wasn’t far off with my lunch weight (I consider a lunch to be a smaller portion than a dinner) and my dinners this week have been just under half the standard, hence my now justified evening hunger pangs.

For the past few months at least, I have favoured a Jack Monroe Veganish recipe (which I make un-vegan!) of caesar dressing and I find it absolutely delicious with cold pasta, veg and ham but I haven’t considered how much this is per portion. I still haven’t done the maths but my lunches had a few slices of wafer thin ham, garden peppers, celery, chick peas (no I haven’t had enough, I love them) and the ceasar dip is made with fat free greek yoghurt, olive oil, yeast flakes, mustard, lemon juice and pepper. If I bought all these things outright, some of the items would only last the week (the veg, ham and yoghurt), the other bits would do a few weeks at least, but the outlay at the beginning would be significant. I love this lunch and have missed it and am looking forward to it even more now having taken all this into account.

Dinner at 6.30pm ish was a double portion of pasta, and the rest of everything else – chick peas, baked beans and sardines, with carrots. I was looking forward to a ‘proper’ plateful (I have been told that our dinnerplates are especially large (!) but this week I have been eating out of a bowl to make it look ‘full’) but I’m a little ashamed to say – but being honest – I didn’t eat much more than half. I think part of it was sheer boredom of the same old flavours or lack of flavour 5 days in a row, part of it was I didn’t care if I was hungry later as I would ‘OK’ tomorrow and part of it was I knew I still have toast and a boiled egg if I really wanted it. Of course I did, so about 8.30pm I had that and really enjoyed it. Eggs are a definite keep if I do this again, as is bread – for me at least.

I’ve been mulling over my conversation with Diane about ‘lasting change’ and my church group are starting a 24/7 Lent course on Prayer this coming week. One of the strands is about fasting and so I read about this particular element when I went to bed, thinking if this is something I could do more often and how it might work. I immediately started thinking ‘it could help me lose / maintain weight’ and then almost as quickly thought ‘but that’s not the point!’ The piece I read said it didn’t have to be about food but could be a fast from talking, social media, screens in general or look at the ‘Daniel Diet’ and only eat vegetables, cutting out rich or ‘fancy’ foods (I’m paraphrasing).

The thing that’s struck me the most about this time is my attitude. I weigh myself each Sunday morning and this Sunday I was 4lb lighter than last week. Not a huge surprise as I’ve eaten relatively little in 5 days so it may well all go back on by next Sunday, but part of me did think on Wednesday when I started, this may help kickstart me into eating less and therefore help with weight control. I don’t think I have a problem with weight, but there it was at the start and end of this period so maybe I need to consider this a bit more.

The point of fasting in a Christian / religious sense, as I understand it, is to focus more on God and the time spent on doing the thing you’ve stopped, you should be spending with God in prayer or study or meditation. I have definitely felt more empathy with those we serve this week, knowing I will ‘go back’ to how I can and do live and eat but for so many what they face today if what they will face tomorrow and the day after and the day after… but I haven’t prayer any more than I usually do and I had thought I would or at least try to.

This will be my takeaway from this experience – not only the gratitude for what I have, but that I will do some form of ‘fasting’ more regularly and use the time I gain more wisely and purposefully.

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Stay tuned as we have a mother and daughter doing this Lent idea this coming week, following a vegan diet…

Live on £1 a Day: Imelda Day 5

Last night’s meal was another tasty recipe from the Jack Monroe cookbook – mixed bean goulash with rice. Lunch was an indulgent vanilla filled doughnut which tasted incredible since I had nothing fancy or sweet all week ‘til then. I was visiting a friend’s house and didn’t want to turn up empty- handed so found this doughnut bargain – 5 for 50p  (I managed to bring one home as a treat for Chris!). Little things mean a lot on a budget and he was extremely grateful! I spent the remaining 36p of the budget on knock down bananas to put on toast for breakfast today and make a sandwich for lunch – they were actually 40p but I was desperate!

Tonight’s meal is a simple ‘spaghetti Arrabbiato’ from a recipe given to us by an Italian friend – one of our favourite light supper dishes. However, best served with a glass or two of red wine! We are surprised we have not missed alcohol too much this week (so far… tonight will be a big test!).

As we come to the close of the 5 day timeframe, our evening meal was a fiery spaghetti dish with half an apple each to follow. Our provisions have lasted and we have been successful in maintaining a varied and sustaining diet (although we would have liked more fresh fruit and veg). It has been an interesting and rewarding experience from which we have grown in our understanding of the issues involved in managing life on a low income. Our involvement in this project has stimulated much discussion amongst our family and friends around the day-to-day struggles of low income individuals & families.

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Check back on Sunday when we’ll be sharing Emma’s experience as her family of 4 will be living on £1 a day each for all food and drink next week.

Live on £1 a Day: Imelda Day 4

We are managing OK – not waking up feeling hungry, but missing fresh fruit and veg which we normally eat SO much of with Chris having an allotment.

We have had several discussions this week about the economy of growing your own food when living on a tight budget: how accessible is growing space for those in households with low incomes? Whilst flats offer little, most council houses have gardens, and tubs and window sill pots are great for herbs. The issue is more about education and knowledge both in terms of growing and using homegrown produce, especially herbs to flavour potentially bland food. The recipes we have been using in Jack Monroe’s cookbook rely heavily on herbs & spices. Many call for fresh coriander which we couldn’t afford on our budget so had to omit! Growing herbs on window sills seems a ‘middle class’ notion when this actually provides an excellent means of adding flavour to budget meals.

At Chris’ allotment site there is a community project called ‘Grow your Own’, providing smaller individual plots inside raised wooden boxes areas. Help and support is provided to get started in the process. This initiative was set up by an man who was himself living on a low income and who recognised the importance of enabling others to include fresh produce in their diets. The project is a great success and has developed over the years into a social & well-being vehicle too. A communal hut and picnic tables have been added and a harvest swap and share is in operation.

Perhaps as an add-on provision at distribution centres there could be a ‘seed’ bank where people could collect donated seeds…? Where does this education start? Many schools today are great at this and some even have school allotments; the message needs to be continued through. Maybe by having seeds to grow yourself available alongside your foodbox, this would prompt & remind people that grow your own is an option…? Anyone out there willing to take this on…?

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We had support from allotment sites when they have gluts of various fruit and vegetables, especially in the summer, which has gone to support both foodbank parcels and also our FISH clubs – contributing to the meals but also being given out to families to take home for tea.

We love the idea of helping people to grow their own – it would be much more sustainable if it were kept up, but as Imelda says, where does it need to start – when people come to foodbank, things have got pretty desperate and to think about the future in terms of planting, growing and nurturing produce, would seem like a bit of a way down the list of things to do. But getting involved in projects that are already up and running like the one at Chris’ allotment mentioned above, and also TCV in Lakenham –
https://www.tcv.org.uk/eastern/tcv-norfolk/tuckswood-food-growing-project – the results would come a lot quicker and hopefully literally plant a seed in people’s minds to keep going and keep coming back for the many benefits this kind of activity provides. Definitely food for thought and something to signpost people onto when they come to foodbank!

Live on £1 a Day: Imelda Day 3

Morning observations – cheap loaf of bread has more slices as cut thinner, therefore goes further!

Tea is definitely a diuretic, particularly effective with no dehydrating alcohol or coffee!

We were just thinking about the shopping we did this week and how much of the stuff is available in the foodbank boxes that Chris helps put together in his volunteering role within the warehouse. It made us realise even more how helpful – no, essential – the foodbank support is and how sad it is in this day and age that so many people need this kind of support.

Another thought… We know the importance of education and knowledge to healthy living and good budgeting, so would it be helpful to put a photocopy sheet with a Jack Monroe recipe or two in the foodboxes as meal suggestions? I believe Norwich foodbank has been donated a complementary copy of the book from the author who sounds like she would allow copyright for this purpose?? I am sure funding could be found for this. [see notes at the end for an update…]

Wow! Chick pea and peach curry is going to be on our menu again! It was quite delicious! I was feeling hungry as I had done Pilates today and over 4 hours working in the garden and needed something both filling & tasty!

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Well Imelda, great minds think alike! Norwich foodbank did indeed receive a donation and, like many foodbanks across the UK, are the proud owners of Jack Monroe’s ‘Cooking on a Bootstrap’ cookbook! Many of the recipes included can be made using foodbank donations (i.e. tinned / long life items), with only a few cheap additions in some cases – just an onion and some garlic in many of the recipes.

With permission from Jack, we have been trialling recipe kit bags at one of our busiest centre, with really positive feedback! We’ve mentioned previously, and it’s echoed in this blog, that tight budgets can lead to limited choices and trying a new recipe with different foodstuffs to what you would normally buy / choose, can be very high risk. The recipe kits give the opportunity to try new dishes with all the items and instructions, so very low risk.

Keep following these blogs to find out more and check out Norwich foodbank on social media (facebook, twitter and instagram) to see more of what Norwich foodbank is doing.

Live on £1 a Day: Imelda Day 2

Yesterday’s experience has resulted in much discussion around the wider issues of coping on low income amongst not only ourselves but also friends and family reading our blog. It has been so interesting to hear wider perspectives and to dwell on them. Our daughter raised some thoughts around the social issues and the knock on effect this has on wellbeing.

Today we have an actual example of that. We have our granddaughter here for the day and my friend and her granddaughter coming over to play and share lunch. How do we host them on our budget? In the ‘real world’ this would indeed be an issue. However, we have the luxury to decide not to involve them in our challenge. We have plenty of eggs & cheese in the ‘house’ fridge (we have set aside the other fridge as our Lent fridge… goodness, I feel so guilty having two fridges now!). We can offer them scrambled eggs on toast with grated cheese on top. Oh how I longed for grated cheese on top of my beans and jacket potato last night! We are however using our Lent loaf for their toast!

As my mind is focused on this topic, I had a discussion with my friend this afternoon about buying goods cheaper in bulk and the fact that those on a tight weekly budget can’t afford the initial outlay. For example, I talked about buying 4 tins of tuna to get a cheaper cost per can, but with my budget, I could not afford the multipack and would have to opt for the much dearer single can. My friend said she used to wonder why people on reduced income bought small packets of washing powder as it is so much cheaper to buy the larger sizes. Now she knows.

During the last two days we have learnt that keeping busy seems to be the best way to distract from the need for food. We were well ready for our evening meal today! Burgers in buns, made with crushed kidney beans, grated carrot, onion and cumin. Surprisingly yummy! See photo.

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Another good point made about quantities and prices here. Due to the labelling and related health and safety / food safety issues around splitting big quantities (all the information needs to be recreated from the original and for most foodstuffs, being airtight would be a requirement), the majority of foodbanks ask for smaller items to be donated – 500g of sugar instead of 1kg, smaller packs of washing powder rather than ‘family size’ ones – because two 500g bags can help support two families, one 1kg bag can only help one family, albeit for a longer period of time. We are genuinely grateful for all donations and we do understand that smaller quantities can cost the donor more, but hopefully this explains why we are sometimes so specific in what is needed!

Live on £1 a Day: Imelda Shop & Day 1

My husband and I accepted to undertake the foodbank’s Lent appeal of living for five days on a food budget of £1 per day each to highlight the struggle many people face on a daily basis.

The money we save this week will be used to supplement the donated food we use to provide hot meals and basics for the homeless of Norwich, as part of the Anon Street Team.

Today is the beginning of this journey. We agreed to adhere strictly to the brief if we possibly can, so no dipping into our own cupboards or using any produce from our allotment! To prepare for this, we decided to select main meals for the 5 days, as these would form the major intake each day. We could then make a shopping list and see whether it was possible with the pooled resource of £10. We would also need to buy staple food such as milk, bread, margarine and tea (we had decided to abandon coffee for the period as it’s too expensive and Chris disliked ‘cheap instant’.

The best resource here was a Jack Monroe cookbook which our daughter-in-law loaned us on hearing our plans. This book is amazing! It was written by Jack when she was struggling as a single unemployed parent and is full of healthy budget meals prepared using simple cheap ingredients. Apparently our children use some of these recipes as family favourites and particularly recommend the burgers (made from kidney beans) and the chick pea and peach curry!

So, with our five menus chosen and shopping list in hand, I am off to Aldi in the hope that I can purchase everything I need for the £10 note I have in my purse…

Well that was an interesting shopping experience! I bought ‘basic’ in everything I could and the bill came to £10.28. I was planning to add on teabags (40 for 29p – (I had previously bought a box of 160 for £1.15 & planned to take a 40 pack out). Also, I planned to split a previously bought multipack of tuna to get my can at the best price. Decisions have to be made! I have decided to dump the tuna bake, normally our cheapest meal of the week, and replace with jacket potatoes & beans. Now I could remove pasta & sweetcorn and add another tin of beans. I already had the potatoes as an extra for a lunchtime! Also, as we are only doing 5 days I decided to be more realistic with the quantities we would be using of the packets we bought and reduce costs accordingly (every penny matters when you are on such a slim budget). The adjustments made, I am left with 86p. I would love to afford some fresh salad or green veggies; let’s see how we go!

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We’ve mentioned in previous blogs about our relationships with FareShare and Norwich FoodHub and we’re so glad to receive fresh fruit and veg through these collections – as Imelda says, this is something that she wishes her strict budget could allow for. The foodbank parcels are nutritionally balanced and all include tinned fruit, vegetables and beans, but it’s really nice to supplement this with extra, fresh items as supplies allow.

Lots of other charities and groups – including the Anon Street Team that Chris and Imelda volunteer with – also use donations from FareShare and FoodHub to provide meals to many in need around the city of Norwich. We’re very grateful to our volunteers who collect and distribute these donations, but also to all those who volunteer with FoodHub and those who coordinate the FareShare collections to help all those who ultimately benefit from this food.